Sunday, October 24, 2004

The Guardian falls

This British publication tried to interfere with the American election by irritating undecided voters in Ohio with smarmy, condescending letter-writing campaigns, puts forth the ridiculous suggestion that William Shakespeare derived inspiration from Sufi Islam in the writing of King Lear, and most outrageously, has indulged in Presidential assassination fantasies (don't miss Andrew Sullivan's comment on this).

I hope that no one I respect treats this magazine seriously anymore, because anyone who does has a serious judgement deficit, IMHO.

UPDATE: TheBit of Muslims Under Progress blog takes issue in the comments with my fit of pique:

I don't see any concern from Americans at Pootie Poot's endorsement of Bush. Why is this any better?

Further, how is this "interference" in the American election? Have they rigged the voting procedures? Made it difficult for American's to vote?

Endorsements are an expression of a personal opinion. Coming from a local newspaper, they are intended to sway opinion; coming from anyone non-local to the election in question, they are intended to serve as a statement of affiliation, and always have political overtones. Putin, of which neither TheBit nor I are fans of, endorsed Bush solely to influence the relationship of Putin with Bush, nothing more. Chechnya is of course involved.

The Guardian's letter-writing campaign is another matter. Rather than an expression of opinion, it was intended to sway - in effect, trying to co-opt the role of a local newspaper endorsement and affect the outcome.

Let's make the general principle explicit. If it's your election (ie, one in which you are eligible to participate), then swaying the outcome is not only allowed but verges on duty. The ideal vehicle for this is to express your arguments in the public forum, and expose themn to criticism and debate. That is the essence of free speech in the service of the common good. The First Amendment guarantees this process by which Americans can play an active role in the most basic function of our democracy.

However, if it's not your election, then your attempt to sway the outcome reflects your self-interest, and not the self-interest of the comunity holding the election. It is literally none of your business. Endorsements by individuals are fine because they are the expression of a personal opinion; if TheBit or any other aggrieved Guardian fan takes the time to assess the content of the letters in question, they will find that the letter campaign far trangresssed beyond that threshold, and into outright coercion, naked in its narcissism.

The campaign is being advertised as "How you can have a say in the US election" ! Even Presidential Daily Briefings from Aug. 6th don't get any clearer than that in their titles. Really, it's disingenous to pretend that its just Putin-endorsement level.

And the tone of the letters has been defined by celebrities explicitly recruited to set an example, such as John Le Carr�, who pleads in his letter, "Give us back the America we loved, and your friends will be waiting for you." Exactly what relevance does Le Carr�'s professed love of America have to how anyone should vote? The sentence encapsulates an arrogant self-absorption that is simply beyond my ability to communicate.

So what if someone writes to me asking me to vote for X? I can read it or do what I do what any sort of spam and junk mail: file it in the bin. The only reasonable objection is that the paper got hold of voters emails and mailing addresses in some dubious way.

For the record, the addressses of undecided voters were purchased by the Guardian. I find that in itself objectionable, verging on an invasion of privacy.

On another issue, TheBit writes:

And it was Lings who put forward the 'theory' regarding Shakespeare not the newspaper (who were 'reporting' it). This is no different from Lunxenburg's 'theory' regading virgins and raisins which was trumpeted around

I've re-read the article, and TheBit is correct, the article was actually a report ON someone with the hare-brained idea that Sufism could underlie William Shakespeare's inspiration, constructed on such flimsy evidence as the line "We are such stuff as dreams are made of" (which could just as easily reflect inspiration from an ABBA song, IMHO). Some of my ire has thus cooled. Still, would it have been too much to ask Madam Arts Correspondent to do a little bit of extra work to find a Shakespearean scholar who could at least offer the opposing view? This isn't journalism, nor is it an arts critique (since the author writes in news style and does not undertake any literary criticism of the content).

I find the comparison to the virgins/dates issue (hinging on whether the word houris derives from Arabic or Aramaic) rather strained, though. That's an actual literary and scholalrly study; this Ling fellow is a bit too enamoured of his suibject matter to be even capable of a rigorous analysis. Note that he proffers not a single example of a Sufi text or source material to offer as comparative proof of a similarity, relying instead entirely on inference and assumption. Neither does the Guardian piece ask for any, which is by far the worse offender.

If the Guardian seeks to just be an opinion rag, that's its prerogative, but this changes my opinion of the magazine not one iota.


  1. I knew from the moment they started spamming the good people of Ohio that this was headed for trouble. They probably got more people to vote for Bush due to their meddling.

    They've definitely jumped the shark.

  2. Aziz--
    The Guardian has taken down the article with the plea for an assassination.

    The campaign was spammed to death, which--I dare say--was a blessing, because I really think it would have backfired disastrously (here is a working link to the open letters page, though). We Americans adore the British, more than we care to let on, but this sort of thing just reflexively raises hackles.

    I guess you could lump me with the anti-Bush zealots, fairly enough. But the Guardian's cartoons--sorry, tried and failed to find a link--were beyond sophomoric. Depicting the president as a knuckle-dragging monkey, poorly drawn, was not a particularly inspired idea--the British press has been depicting our presidents as apes or baboons at least since Abraham Lincoln--and of course awarding it some prize suggested that the editors were incapable of making a coherent artistic or literary judgement.

    While I didn't really take Le Carre's letter as ill as you--perhaps I feel that he is entirely within the right to say what he did, although the concluding paragraph,

    But please don't feel isolated from the Europe you twice saved. Give us back the America we loved, and your friends will be waiting for you. And here in Britain, for as long as we have Tony Blair singing the same lies as George Bush, your nightmares will be ours...won't convince people people who have read Le Carre: he's never been an admirer of our country, and it shows ; for someone like me, this is a really obnoxious tactic (we'd love you if you jumped through some hoops). Please; love is not conditional, and it's not the part of a grownup to loathe people for differences in political opinion.

    Ken Loach's essay is the worst I've seen. Oh, this is bad! Loach must have a suicide pact if Bush loses to have written a letter this bad!

    It is in the struggle of the early trades unions, the International Workers of the World, who fought injustice and exploitation. Those who were sacrificed in the Ludlow Massacre. Heroes like Joe Hill and Mother Jones.With friends like these, whose needs enemies? I thought the days of Democrats being called "Communists" was a relic of Sen Robert Taft and the John Birch Society. And spare me the sanctimony! The EU has done its part to drive American industrial workers to the wall--he would have us lie down and let Lamy slit our throats! His attitude to the American worker is like unto Titus Andronicus' towards the sons of Queen Tamora:

    Hark, wretches! how I mean to martyr you.
    This one hand yet is left to cut your throats,
    Whilst that Lavinia 'tween her stumps doth hold
    The basin that receives your guilty blood.
    You know your mother means to feast with me,
    And calls herself Revenge, and thinks me mad:
    Hark, villains! I will grind your bones to dust
    And with your blood and it I'll make a paste,
    And of the paste a coffin I will rear
    And make two pasties of your shameful heads,
    And bid that strumpet, your unhallow'd dam,
    Like to the earth swallow her own increase.
    This is the feast that I have bid her to,
    And this the banquet she shall surfeit on;